Downturn of HIV rates in Zimbabwe could help all African nations

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A study finds HIV infection rates are drastically reduced in Zimbabwe from fear of infection and social change, findings researchers say could help all African nations.

The findings, published in the journal PLoS Medicine, show the reasons HIV rates have declined is from public awareness and fear of contracting AIDS that they hope can influence HIV rates throughout Africa.

Between 1997 and 2007, rates of infection fell from 29% to 16% in the midst of social and political upheaval, primarily due to fear of infection, but also from acceptance of condom use.

Another contributing factor for the downward trend in number of HIV cases is change in sexual behaviors - fewer extramarital affairs, partners and casual sexual relationships.


Professor Simon Gregson, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, and senior investigator on the study, said: "Given the continuing, and worrying, trend for high HIV/AIDS infection rates in many sub-Saharan African countries, we felt it was important to understand why the disease has taken a such a dramatic downturn in Zimbabwe. Very few other countries around the world have seen reductions in HIV infection, and of all African nations, Zimbabwe was thought least likely to see such a turnaround. This is why there was such an urgent need to understand its direct and underlying causes."

The research findings come from twenty years of studies that were discussed and debated at a national meeting in Zimbabwe that ultimately led to a "clear consensus" that HIV testing and counseling can help curb spread of the disease and is responsible for reducing the number of cases found in the study analysis.

According to Dr Timothy Hallett, also from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London and an investigator on the study, HIV is still widespread and much more needs to be done to drive infection rates down even further. The scientists hope Zimbabwe can be an example for other African nations who experience high rates of HIV/AIDS.

Halperin DT, Mugurungi O, Hallett TB, Muchini B, Campbell B, et al. (2011) A Surprising Prevention Success: Why Did the HIV Epidemic Decline in Zimbabwe? PLoS Med 8(2): e1000414. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000414


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